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Ages 11-18

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VisionQuest is a wilderness challenge program that provides an alternative to incarceration for serious juvenile offenders. It also offers youths a consistent educational plan that extends throughout the program and an individualized treatment plan that is constantly reevaluated.

Most VisionQuest youths are committed to the program by the juvenile court. VisionQuest staff interview youths prior to placement to ensure that they are appropriate candidates. Eligible youths must then make four commitments before entering the program—that they will a) complete three high-impact programs, b) abstain from drugs, sex, alcohol, and tobacco, c) participate for a minimum of 1 year, and d) face their problems.

Program youths spend 12 to 15 months in various challenging outdoor impact programs. The program is divided into three phases: a) 3 months in an orientation wilderness camp, b) 5 months in an adventure program, and c) 5 months in a community residential program.

The first phase of the VisionQuest program is a wilderness camp where youths live outdoors in tepees, with a tepee family of 6 to 10 youths and a counselor. In this phase, juveniles receive an orientation to the program and undergo educational, psychological, and behavioral evaluations. They also undergo an intensive physical conditioning program in addition to their regular schoolwork.

The second phase involves an adventure program, such as a wagon train. On a wagon train, youths travel across the western States on mule-drawn wagons and assume responsibility for everything from feeding the animals to setting up nightly camps. Each wagon train consists of about 50 youths and 50 staff. The wagon train experience teaches juveniles the value of cooperation, self-discipline, and the work ethic. In addition to the wagon train, youths may engage in various quests that differ in theme, scope, and duration. Examples include ocean voyages, cross-country bike trips, hikes through wilderness, and “breaking” mustangs or camels.

In the last phase, youths enter the residential program, where they live in group homes. This living situation is designed to prepare youths to return to home by concentrating on educational goals, family relationships, and plans for the future.


The evaluation employed a quasi-experimental design with nonequivalent comparison-groups design. The first group studied consisted of 257 male juveniles placed at a probation camp. The second group (the treatment group) consisted of 90 males released from the VisionQuest program. Notably, one fourth of the juveniles rejected their assignment to the VisionQuest program and became the third group in the study. These 66 males were assigned to various placements. Although the experimental VisionQuest group consisted of more serious offenders than the comparison group, the differences between the groups were controlled statistically through the careful selection of relevant variables. Recidivism was the primary outcome measure in an 18-month follow-up.


The evaluation revealed that VisionQuest youths were substantially less likely to be rearrested in the 1st year after release than the traditional group (55 percent compared with 71 percent). When differences in group characteristics were statistically controlled, 1st year re-arrest rates for VisionQuest youths were about half that of the control youths. In addition, a cost–benefit analysis showed that VisionQuest was more expensive to implement than the comparison programs, but the authors show that the benefits of reduced recidivism outweigh these higher costs.


Greenwood, Peter W., and Susan Turner. 1987. The VisionQuest Program: An Evaluation. Santa Monica, Calif.: The RAND Corporation.


352 Marshallton–Thorndale Road
Downingtown, PA 19335
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